Written for uMAXit.
Play-offs: a wonderfully sadistic scheme organised to create first anxiety, then depression – with elation being exclusive to the favoured fan base.
The play-offs in the Football League are, invariably, great entertainment for neutrals. Some would argue it is not a fair system, with Brighton’s capitulation at Sheffield Wednesday a prime example: third best in the league, missing out on automatic promotion due to goal-difference, and then falling victim to four injuries in one game. Brighton need to bounce back from a 2-0 defeat in emphatic style, but it is unlikely; whether or not this is a fair justification for their performance or not, it makes for spectacular viewing.
This reek of angst and desperation could emanate from the bowels of the Premier League, given it is constructed sensibly. A possible thesis could relate to a play-off for the final relegation spot and the fourth Champions League space. The title would be immune to such competition – opposing the system used in everyone’s favourite refuge for ageing superstars, the MLS.
The teams included in the play-offs would play a final-esque game, in a neutral venue. One game to decide relegation, one game to decide Champions League football. The stakes would be enormous – a perfect ingredient for a tremendous atmosphere.
Old Trafford, Villa Park, Elland Road and Anfield could be possible venues, mirroring the traditional style of FA Cup semi-finals. These historic grounds, steeped in former glory, are emblematic of the English game; the introduction of play-offs would fuse tradition with progression in a highly appealing fashion.
Such a proposal would mean the final day of the season would be more than a dead-rubber, as it often is. Teams would be fighting to be included and excluded from a respective play-off spot. This season, six teams would have been playing to either avoid or clinch such a Champions League play-off spot: Tottenham and Arsenal could have fallen to fourth, whilst Manchester City could have escaped the drama of a play-off, with Manchester United, West Ham and Southampton all playing for the chance of finishing fifth. With regards to the relegation places, it would have meant that Newcastle and Norwich would still have had a chance of survival, whilst Bournemouth could have been dragged into one final dog-fight.
Play-offs would also mean increased revenue, and it is evident how much those privileged in the echelons of the football pyramid crave such income. Yet, it would also benefit the clubs; greater income means greater opportunity to invest in players, infrastructure, scouting and so forth.
Football in England is protected by a shield bronzed with custom and history. It is worshipped, taking on a sanctimonious quality and thus any proposals seeking to evolve its layout are adamantly rejected. However, now may be the time, in a world where billions are injected into the game, to grow and develop; the introduction of a play-off for the aforementioned goals would generate heightened passion and fervour, greater entertainment and increased revenue for clubs.